21 October 2011

Vilian or Vision: The Changing Face of the Witch


In the painting Love Magic, the unknown artist from the Lower Rhine depicts an alluring witch. Painted at the end of the fifteen century it shows her naked except for a diaphanous veil and phallic shaped patten slippers. The witch is pouring an intoxicating liquid over a red heart while being observed by a mysterious man in black. Is he a voyeur or her conjured lover? This erotic image is in contrast to the terrifying reality of the witch hunts that went on in Europe and North America between 1480 to 1750. The world was in chaos with rapid social, economic and political changes resulting in the witch becoming a symbol of life out of control. With the Age of Enlightenment there came an end to the hunts, trials, and executions of those accused of witchcraft. A more romanticized view of sorcery is seen in the watercolor by Australian artist Christian Waller (1894-1954) of Morgan le Fay. The figure of Arthurian myth was schooled in not only witchcraft but also powers of healing. In a 1930s illustration from Child Magazine three young witches dance under a full moon, happily unaware of any discord in the world.


02 October 2011

Visions in a Mirror: Husband or Skull

October is a favorite month for Porcelains and Peacocks because of the wonderfully pagan holiday of Halloween. Going back to the Celts. the last night of October was viewed as a portal between the worlds of the living and the dead which gave the Druids clarity to see into the future. Perhaps this is where the tradition of an unmarried woman peering into a mirror on Halloween originates. She would sit in a darkened room with a candle lit and if she were lucky she would see the visage of her future husband in the mirror but if she saw the image of a skull she would die unwed. American illustrator C. Allan Gilbert (1873-1929) played with the theme by creating an optical illusion of a woman gazing into a boudoir mirror that forms the shape of a skull in All is Vanity. A happier outcome is revealed in a Halloween card of the same era. Hans Baldung Grien (1484-1545) was a German Renaissance artist; when his maiden gazes into the mirror she is met with an image of a skull as she accidentally treads on a deadly serpent.